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What does it take to be a true expert? (Part 4: Shoreline)

Friday, October 12, 2018

What does it take to be a true expert? (Part 4: Shoreline)

In this series of articles, we look to highlight the activity of OSRL’s Subject Matter Experts (SME) programme and the working groups established to advance each discipline’s objectives.


In this feature, we speak to Dr. Rob Holland, the co-chair of the Shoreline Working Group.  Here he explains the team’s achievements to date, their current activity, and their long-term ambitions for this vitally important area of spill preparedness and response.


Firstly, what can you tell us about the Shoreline Core Group?


Shoreline Clean-up Assessment Technique – or SCAT–has always been a capability that OSRL has provided to its Members. But having attended the Macondo incident in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, I felt we could learn from the approach being used, as I witnessed its effectiveness in driving the shoreline response programme.


A proposal to OSRL to strengthen our SCAT capability; recommending that SCAT was fully embedded within the organisation along with training and a cohesive framework of processes and documentation. This was well received so I identified a team to manage the immediate requirements and the long-term goals we had established – the SCAT Core Group was born. We also collaborated with external partners, including Dr. Ed Owens, who was instrumental in the original development of SCAT, back in the 1980s.


We then spent the next couple of years actively building our internal expertise and producing documentation that was consistent with our global colleagues and other countries that had or were in the process of adopting SCAT. We created a lot of new training materials and invested time in sharing our understanding with external audiences. Since then, we’ve trained over 100 OSRL responders and several of them have travelled the world extolling the virtues of SCAT to our Members.


More recently the SCAT Core Group was expanded to become the Shoreline Core Group, with a number of complementary areas of focus. So, in addition to covering SCAT and shoreline clean-up, the group also has responsibility for the protection of sensitive resources, and shoreline and inland assessment – three key areas of the IOGP-IPIECA Tiered Preparedness and Response (TPR) wheel.


In terms of members, the shoreline core group consists of eight OSRL people, located around the world, with various levels of experience in the subject – but all with a keen interest in developing their understanding. We also have two external contributors, who act as industry mentors. Richard Santner, from BP, is a technical authority when it comes to oil spill preparedness and response and was the shoreline response programme manager for the Macondo incident. Dr. Will Gala is a Chevron Fellow for ecological risk assessment, and is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on the subject.


The group’s current remit extends to developing OSRL’s strategic approach to shoreline; enhancing our internal capabilities and deepening shoreline expertise across the organisation and the wider O&G industry. To that end, we’ve developed a strategic plan that defines the fundamental principles that underpin the set-up, activities and related objectives of the core group. The plan acts as a guidance document, outlining where we are now and the goals we have set for the forthcoming year. It is a living document, so it is designed to respond to changes in the industry or members’ requirements.


The strategic plan also outlines three multi-year themes; technical development, competence, and engagement – covering both internal and external stakeholders.


What are the group’s recent and current objectives?


One of our most significant recent objectives has been a collaboration between our Core Group and OSRL’s Geomatics department. We’ve worked together to develop a tablet-based app, which digitises the process of data collection when performing a SCAT assessment out in the field.


Historically, the data would be recorded in the field on a paper form– the Oiled Shoreline Assessment (OSA) form. The responder would detail the physical characteristics of the shoreline, operational features such as access and potential staging areas, as well as the type and amount of oil observed.


The new SCAT App removes several stages of that procedure and significantly streamlines the process of getting data from the field to the command centre. It is currently still in beta but from 2019, the app will become the primary method for collecting shoreline assessment intelligence. In practical terms, the app could cut the time from collection to action by several hours, enabling critical decisions to be made earlier and assessments to be validated faster.  Another benefit of developing our own application, rather than purchasing something which already exists, is the ease with which it can be integrated into our current GIS systems, and removes the need to work with any third parties.

Another key objective for the group, although not quite as glamorous as the app, has been the standardisation of a whole range of processes and data collection forms for our internal shoreline response procedures. We’ve produced numerous templates, including the OSA form that is now part of the app. Perhaps more importantly, we’ve also documented the necessary procedures so that if someone is required to do a SCAT survey, they have everything they need to capture the required data in a totally consistent format.

The development of the SCAT app has been a key area for engagement for us. We have regularly communicated our progress and the app’s potential at events and exhibitions, or through member forums. A good example is our Members’ Day, which is taking place in London, in December. Over the course of the day we’ll be performing live demonstrations of the SCAT app, with OSRL people on the banks of the River Thames, collecting data and beaming it in near real-time to the event space. Members will be able to see a survey being carried out live, and we’ll be able to demonstrate how we can communicate with the team through the app. Overall, we want to show the app’s capabilities and how we are making use of modern technology to make life easier for us and them.

What’s next for the shoreline group?

We’re always going to be interested in new technology and how it can help us to respond more effectively and efficiently. The SCAT app is again a perfect example. We know that it will keep evolving over the coming years, especially after it goes out to all our members and it is used out in the field. We will also continue to investigate the developments in tech hardware too, looking at things like ruggedized tablets and phones. We are already trialling some devices but as technology continues to develop at pace, we need to ensure we are staying ahead of the curve in terms of what’s possible, what the benefits are and it effectiveness.

Another area we’re looking at is big data, visualisation and machine learning, and how we best manage all the information that is coming in. We want to know how we can maximise its value and use it to better inform our recommendations and decisions. It’s a huge growth area and it has a great deal of potential for shoreline response.


Another part of our remit is to regularly scan the horizon, working with members, regulators, academia, governments or NGOs to see what new techniques may be emerging in the field. Academia, in particular, already plays an important role in the research and development of the discipline, and that is sure to continue. Following Macondo, US research universities were given large sums to go and research the impact of the spill. There is still some time to go on most of those projects but several are looking at shoreline response, so a future objective for us will be to review their findings and conclusions, and understand how we can utilise the relevant parts of their efforts to the benefit of our members.




Author Bio(s)

Rob Holland

STSE Manager

Rob holds BSc and PhD qualifications in Marine Biology and has over 30 years’ experience ranging from academic research, teaching, consultancy and the last 20 years in the oil spill response industry. Rob has worked at OSRL since 2003 and has delivered a wide range of spill response preparedness projects for OSRL members globally including oil spill response plans, capability reviews, exercises, training, spill support and secondments. 


Rob currently sits in OSRL's global Technical Department and is responsible for the development of new and novel techniques and approaches to spill response which includes the application of marine autonomous systems. He is also responsible for OSRL's outreach to the scientific research and academic community to ensure oil spill response good practice is shared.